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Dodgers fans miss out on watching opener because of continued TV fiasco

Most of you have missed two no-hitters.

Now you've missed a 17-hitter.

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Most of you have missed dramatic walk-offs.

Now you've missed the grandest of walk-overs.

On a sunny Monday afternoon that eventually turned dark and chilly, the Dodgers opened the 2016 season bathed in glory and shame.

It was glorious how they engineered an opening-day, 15-0 victory over the San Diego Padres. It was shameful how most Los Angeles households could not watch it on television.

Because of baseball's maddening blackout rules, the ESPN national broadcast was blacked out in L.A. so it would not interfere with the Dodgers' local network. But because of the Dodgers' own maddening blackout of SportsNet LA, more than half of L.A. viewers saw nothing.

Clayton Kershaw twirling beauty from the mound, allowing only two baserunners in seven innings and adding a fake-bunt-turned-line-single with his bat? Mostly dark.

Yasiel Puig beginning his rubber-meets-the-road season by flying all over the park, including legging out a triple that caused a bad throw that led him to score on the play? Program not found.

Dave Roberts winning his first game as manager with warm hugs and an ice-water bath? Spotlighted kids Corey Seager and Joc Pederson combining for three doubles, three runs batted in and huge childlike grins? You can stop pounding on the remote control now, it's over, and you missed it.

The beauty actually began as it has for 67 years, with Vin Scully, who flew from L.A. on Monday morning and stepped into the booth for the first game of his farewell season. But unless you were listening to the first three innings on the radio, you never heard him utter a word, and there's no clue whether most of L.A. TV viewers will hear him again.

The fallout from arguably the most disastrous business decision in the history of L.A. sports is entering its third season, but it has never been worse than Monday, when baseball's traditional day of hope filled Dodgers fans with the same old despair born of Dodgers ownership's ego and greed.

That means you, Mark Walter. That means you, Stan Kasten. That means you, Magic Johnson.

It was so bad Monday, word about the blackout seeped into the Petco Park visiting clubhouse, where, after happily driving in three runs, a solemn A.J. Ellis became the first player to speak openly and eloquently on the situation.

"It's discouraging for a lot of reasons,'' Ellis said of the blackout, and began by citing Kershaw and Scully.

"First, with the guy on the mound, he's the best pitcher in our sport, then the guy in the booth, the greatest play-by-play announcer in the history of sports," Ellis said. "It's disappointing and unfortunate that we have such an amazing fan base, such a loyal fan base, and they can't watch their favorite team on their couch.''

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Added Ellis: "There's obviously nothing we can do about it as players, except let those people know out there how important they are to us, how much they mean to us, how proud we are to play for them. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity for them to see us play full time.''

In a Petco Park hallway earlier, as Dodgers officials were scurrying to leave, spokesman Lon Rosen echoed their longtime party line.

"We would like DirecTV and all the other distributors to sit down with Time Warner Cable to get this thing settled," Rosen said.

While the Dodgers are responsible for the distribution of their product, and thus ultimately to blame for this fiasco, there were other factors at work Monday.

First, Time Warner Cable had nothing to do with the ESPN blackout, as spokesman Andrew Fegyveresi explained.

"It's ESPN's decision whether or not they decide to select a Dodgers game to co-exist with SportsNet LA's game coverage in the LA market,'' he said.

Second, ESPN has the latitude to choose 10 games for co-existing with local regional sports networks, but it was apparently too early in the season for that decision, as they usually lift it during pennant races.

"We'll be on a lot in L.A.'' an ESPN spokesman told The Times

Which leaves this in the hands of Major League Baseball, which joined the Dodgers in dropping the ball. Commissioner Rob Manfred could have surely ordered the lifting of this blackout given the tumultuous circumstances in this market. But then he would have perhaps been hurting Dodgers negotiations, and maybe costing them money, and so that was never going to happen.

Don't believe Manfred when he says he cares. And certainly don't believe the Dodgers ownership when it says it cares, because it just watched another dramatic moment escape, another bit of greatness eclipsed, another connection broken, all to preserve their war chest.

After several price reductions were rebuffed by local pay-TV operators, Time Warner Cable refuses to reduce any further, and last week its efforts to end the stalemate apparently ceased. Yet, if this were a good business deal, DirecTV would do it, and the Dodgers have yet to get behind that sort of a deal.

The only hope for fans is that when Charter gets approval from federal and state regulators this summer to take over Time Warner Cable, they will restart negotations and get it done.

In the meantime, another great Dodgers moment was exciting, enlightening and invisible, a sunny opening day becoming just another part of a three-year nightmare.

"This was fun to be a part of,'' Kershaw said, and most Dodgers fans will just have to take his word for it.

MORE FROM BILL PLASCHKE

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